Song from the Uproar

Explorer, nomad, journalist, novelist, passionate romantic, Sufi, and woman.

With a libretto by Royce Vavrek, Missy Mazzoli’s enthralling multimedia opera conjures the rebel hero/heroine Isabelle Eberhardt, the extraordinary writer who left her home in Europe to explore Northern Africa.

Mazzoli’s electric score layers acoustic and electronic sound with live and pre-recorded voices to create a spellbinding beautiful indie-rock opera. Mazzoli/Vavrek’s recent world premiere BREAKING THE WAVES is being hailed as “among the best twenty-first-century American operas yet” (Opera News).

Chicago Fringe Opera’s production is led by Catherine O’Shaughnessy (conductor), Amy Hutchison (stage director) and Kia Smith (choreographer). Mezzo-soprano Emma Sorenson stars as Isabelle Eberhardt, in her exciting Chicago debut.

By Missi Mazzoli
Libretto by Royce Vavrek


Isabelle Eberhardt

Artistic Team

Assistant Director & Stage Manager
Kia Smith
Projections & Paintings
Franny Mendes Levitin
Janice Pytel
Lighting Design
Sound Design
Reesie Davis
Dedrick Gray
Tonia Miki
Electric Guitar
Danny Cohen
Jennifer Shanahan
Manuel Ramos
Double Bass
Jackson Kidder


The texts for “Song from the Uproar” were inspired by the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904) an explorer, nomad, journalist, novelist, passionate romantic, Sufi, and one of the most unique and unusual women of her era. At age twenty, after the death of her mother, brother and father, she left her life in Switzerland for a nomadic and unfettered existence in the deserts of North Africa. She traveled extensively through the desert on horseback, often dressed as a man, relentlessly documenting her travels through detailed journals. At age twenty-seven Isabelle drowned in a flash flood in the desert.

“Song from the Uproar” immerses the audience in the surreal landscapes of Isabelle’s like; she describes the death of her family, the thrill of her arrival in Africa, her tentative joy at falling in love, the elation of self-discovery and the mystery of death.

Composer's Note

In 2004, within hours of picking up a copy of her journals in a Boston bookstore, I officially became obsessed with Isabelle Eberhardt’s strange and moving life story. Within two weeks I had read everything she had ever written and nearly everything written about her, but despite my compulsive reading habits, I still had more questions than answers.

I was struck by the universal themes of her story – how much her struggles, her questions, her passions, mirrored those of women throughout the 20th and 21st century. Isabelle made a great effort to define herself as an independent woman under extreme circumstances. She dressed as a man, seeing this as the only way to move freely and live the life of her choice. She let herself fall deeply in love but struggled to maintain her independent lifestyle.

I knew immediately that I wanted to create a large-scale work about Isabelle, and I knew that I wanted it to be more of a personal response to her life than a detailed retelling of her story. I needed to start answering my own questions, imagining how she felt, filling in the spaces between journal entries and exploring the universality that make her story so vibrant and relevant to me over one hundred years after her death.

— Missy Mazzoli

Director's Note

Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek have created an enthralling opera conjuring the maverick spirit of Isabelle Eberhardt, the extraordinary 19th century European woman writer who converted to Islam and moved to Algeria to explore North Africa, dressed as an Arab man; writing and living with complete disregard for societal conventions. Isabelle bravely and brazenly catapulted herself into a life of sensual adventure and spiritual contemplation in a quest for true freedom of mind, body and spirit. In the opera, the refrain “It is written” meaningfully echoes throughout Isabelle’s journey, as a sort of calling, evoking the Islamic tenet of qadar (acceptance of the will of God).

Missy’s music is beautiful and melodic, often haunting with a driving pulse. She infuses classical structures with an electric edge, layering electronic and recorded sounds with the live voices, acoustic instruments and electric guitar. This electric/acoustic duality sounds strikingly fresh and reminded me of paintings by Franny Mendes Levitin. Franny’s work fuses digital and analog imagery, pixilating and layering classical themes in a way that mimics the virtual nomadic exploration of the internet. We evoke Isabelle’s fluid shifting inner and outside worlds with projections of Franny’s paintings layered with evocative manipulated found footage. The classical/contemporary duality of the score will also be reflected in Janice Pytel’s costuming of our cast. Isabelle’s genderfluid sensibility straddles the Eastern/Western cultural divide, male privilege and female vulnerability, libertine sensuality and Islamic spirituality. We experience her as remarkably contemporary, despite the constraints of her time.

Everyone onstage portrays Isabelle Eberhardt. Kia Smith and I have choreographed the dancers and singers to express Isabelle’s turbulent emotional life throughout the opera and connect us to her spiritual path. Isabelle, devastated by the losses of her sibling and parents, carries aspects of her family as she matures, as we all do, and these facets provide her strength and sometimes frailty throughout her brief but incandescent life. At a time when most women worldwide were confined to home and hearth, Isabelle Eberhardt’s unquiet soul set forth on a quest for independence and self-actualization. Throughout her stormy “lives” and “deaths” Isabelle wrote her own life story, and the world was transformed by her “footprints in the sand.”

Thank You

Chicago Fringe Opera is immensely grateful for our donors who support our mission of presenting innovative vocal works with an emphasis in the new and contemporary styles, engaging with the Chicago community through intimate and immersive performance experiences, and fostering and empowering local artists.


Year to date as of: March 22, 2022

Jennifer Alkem

Isabella Andries

John Bierbusse

Dana Brown

John Cederquist

Darwin Corrin

Robert P Delonis

Kathy Dunn

Kent Dymak

Maria Fletcher

Paul Freehling

Sarah Geocaris

Myron Levine

Joan Mazzanelli

Ashley McKinstry

Patricia McMillen

Carla & William O’Shaughnessy

Robert Daniel Reid

Jeffrey Roth

Elizabeth Rudolph

Laura Smalley

Tracey Smalley

Julie Stauffer

Carol Stukey

Joshua Taylor

Mark & Joan Walker

Isabella Weber

Jonathan Wilson

Dean Yannias

Jonathan Zeng

Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP 

Fidelity Charitable 


Additional Donors

Chicago Fringe Opera is grateful to the following individuals and organizations for their support and in-kind donations:

Aria Rental
Community Foundation of St. Joseph County
DJ Joe at WNUR FM Evanston-Chicago
Filament Theatre
Main Street Opera
Mealah Heidenreich
Merry Music Makers
Natalia Nicholson
PianoForte Foundation
Preston Bradley Center
Debbie Vanni

Company & Board


Matthew Godfrey
Board Member
Sarah Geocaris
Board Member
Joshua Taylor
Board Member
Lara Yang

Company Members

Executive Director
Catherine O'Shaughnessy
Producing Artistic Director
George Cederquist
Casting Coordinator
Dana Campbell
Social Media Manager
Daina Fischer
PR & Audience Relations Director
Giovanna Jacques
Artistic Producer
Khary Laurent
Marketing, Brand & Web Director
Jenny Schuler
Vocal Arts Associate
Bridget Skaggs
Community Engagement Coordinator
Jonathan Zeng